‘Skewed’ Ottawa Police Intelligence Hurt Their Ability to Contain ‘Freedom Convoy’, Security Analysts Say

Declassified intelligence information shows that the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) may have hindered its own ability to contain the Freedom Convoy by relying on its own analysis and discounting crucial threat assessments from outside agencies.

Intelligence reports from both OPS and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), which differ widely in tone, were scrutinized earlier this week in the federal investigation into the use of the Emergencies Act.

In January, OPS investigators characterized the “Freedom Convoy” protest as “organic” and “middle class,” while the OPP highlighted a movement driven by “strongly anti-government” leaders promoting intimidation and harassment tactics.

The OPS operational plan that was implemented on Friday, January 28, assumed that the truckers would leave after the weekend. Instead, the convoy trapped the capital in diesel smoke and chaos for more than three weeks.

Acting Deputy Chief Steve Bell was in charge of intelligence gathering when the convoy reached the capital. Earlier in the week, at the Public Order Emergency Commission, Bell testified that the intelligence he received indicated that the protesters would be “legal.”

“These were people moving around the country determined to be heard, but they were peaceful,” Bell testified. “They indicated their intention was to be peaceful when they got here.”

THE INTERNAL REPORT

A report from the OPS Security Intelligence Section, dated January 25 and written by Sgt. Chris Kiez said that the convoy was “less of a professional protest with the usual sad players, but more of a truly organic grassroots event that is gaining momentum.”

The report predicted large crowds and claimed protesters had access to a growing fund to pay for food, lodging, fuel and legal costs.

Kiez wrote that, at the time of this writing, “there is no critical intelligence to suggest any type of violent action or concern about violence.”

University of Ottawa professor Michael Kempa studies policing and says the interpretation of protesters as typical disgruntled Canadians created a blind spot for OPS.

“That kind of bias severely underestimated the public safety threat that was coming, driven by a very committed core of organizers, some of whom had bad intentions and were not seen by police,” Kempa said.

Former national security analyst Stephanie Carvin calls the report “unprofessional.” Threat assessments must be objective and convey the degree of reliability of the intelligence, which was not done in the OPS report, Carvin said. She found it shocking that the information about “larger crowds and longer-than-planned riots” was taken verbatim from a column by political pundit Rex Murphy.

“Threat assessments are not threat assessments. They’re weird editorial positions,” says Carvin, who now teaches at Carleton University.

“This person (Kiez) is effectively saying, look, these are white middle class people, they are not going to participate in the kind of demonstrations that we have seen with Black Lives Matter or indigenous protesters.”

Under the heading “Individual and/or groups potentially posing a threat during the convoy,” Kiez noted that the RCMP still considers the Islamic State (ISIS) to be a threat.

Queen’s University researcher Amarnath Amarasingam says that may show that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s 2014 lone wolf attack on Parliament Hill that claimed the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo still ranks high in OPS risk assessments. However, the most recent case of Corey Hurren, who burst through the gates of Rideau Hall in the summer of 2020 with several loaded rifles in an attempt to arrest the prime minister over COVID-19 restrictions, is not mentioned in the report. Ottawa.

“The organizational aspects of the convoy were missed, that they were well-known far-right actors from the beginning, that the OPP had in their sights. PAHO deliberately ignored it or lacked the (intelligence) resources to see it,” Amarasingam said.

SPO ANALYSIS AND WARNINGS

According to confidential emails submitted as evidence to the Public Order Emergency Commission, the OPP provided Ottawa police with 26 strategic intelligence reports on the convoy and its organizers. The so-called Hendon reports focused on “criminal extremism” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The OPP’s first intelligence report on the convoy was sent on January 13 and warned:

  • A massive protest was mobilizing through Ottawa;
  • the leaders had anti-government sentiments;
  • its goal was to reverse COVID-19 mandates;
  • there was no credible intelligence to suggest an armed insurgency; Y
  • the participants had a “will” to go beyond what is peaceful and legal.

On January 20, the Hendon report highlighted participants advocating the disruption of supply routes through road blockades and the forced closure of Parliament, provincial and municipal buildings. Analysts wrote that “there did not yet appear to be an exit strategy to exit Ottawa until all COVID-19 related mandates and restrictions are lifted.”

As the trucks rolled through the country, the alarming amount of information grew in the OPP dispatches. The January 27th threat assessment included:

  • a report by a convoy supporter advocating “civil war”;
  • that weapons were seized from a Quebec protester but no charges were filed;
  • there was potential for a “real threat to public safety and officer safety”;
  • the organizers were unlikely to control fringe elements; Y
  • the presence of heavy equipment can be used for “long-term occupancy”.

On Monday, Bell testified that the Jan. 27 Hendon report was the first OPP intelligence analysis he had read about the convoy. The first tractor-trailers would arrive in Ottawa the next day.

In an effort to direct traffic away from residential areas, police ordered protesters to park on Wellington Street to the gates of Parliament Hill. But the sheer number of heavy trucks would spread far beyond the parliamentary district, impacting the lives of more than 15,000 residents. Vehicles would block dozens of blocks, obstructing emergency vehicles and buses and subjecting residents to a constant barrage of blaring horns.

In his testimony, Bell said that Ottawa police had plenty of experience handling large demonstrations, but stressed that this was the first time large trucks had bolstered a protest.

“Nobody had any experience dealing with the patriot rally in terms of a large-scale rally — we were the first,” Bell said, falling back on the oft-repeated “unprecedented” refrain from other Ottawa police officers who appeared at the hearing.

Chris Diana, the lawyer representing the OPP, responded: “I would argue that his planning was based more on what he thought would happen, on his experience, rather than on the intelligence he had at his disposal.”

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